Here it is, the final chapter of this saga resembling a Russian novel (one of my all-time favorite reviews!). I discovered a lot about myself while writing the story, and several times doubted what I was creating, but my lovely friend and head cheerleader Michelle would have nothing of my doubts. It is she who spurred this story to completion, and she has my deep and sincere thanks for continually nudging me along.
I'd like to mention that I am first and foremost a lover of ESG's novels. While the TV show is one of my favorites of all time, it is the novel characterizations of Perry and Della and real-life incidents that form the basis of my stories, with details from the show that pique my interest tossed into the mix. In the novels Perry was gruff and rough and tough, but he truly liked Della, who was witty and wise and smarter than the average woman. He was tall and athletic, with wavy black hair and 'granite hard' features. She was considerably younger, hazel-eyed, trim, and had curly hair. Their conversations were highlights of the novels and my goal in writing fan fiction was to apply those conversations in settings removed from the office or courtroom.
In response to wishes for my P&D universe to include wedded bliss, I'm afraid that has not occurred in any story outlines currently in my 'bunny' file. However, look for a new story from our resident master of romance, Michelle Weiner, because without giving too much away, you will be VERY happy.
I hope to write another story before baseball season begins again, possibly revolving around the mysterious Ellen or the even more mysterious 'fact' Perry became a judge – a tenant of the movies that both confounds and intrigues me.
There was a bit of confusion surrounding a conversation in chapter 15 between Jameson Street and Perry that I'd like to clear up: it was Eve, not Della, whose life Jameson wanted to save but still allow her to be a woman.
Thank you for reading and for all the comments. It is gratifying to know that the story is appreciated.
Following an eight minute hug in the bathroom, Perry left Della to finish her bath while he invaded Harvey's smaller bathroom to take a shower. She was out of the tub and in bed by the time he returned, having pulled back the covers just on her side so she could crawl beneath them. The lamp on his side of the bed was the only light in the room, and he had to marvel anew at how comfortable and welcoming she had made this room for them. Harvey had asked her to replace whatever furnishings she found lacking in the entire house after seeing the results of her decorating talent, and she had fretted several times about letting him down during the cross-country trip to the lake. If by any slim chance Perry felt he could share her with another human being in the next four days, he would take her to the shops she favored to pick out a chair or a lamp, something that would give her a sense of accomplishment in regard to Harvey's request. Harvey expected nothing in a certain timeframe, but Della was Della, and if improving the comfort and ambience of the lake house could in some small way repay his generosity and respectful silence in regard to her involvement with his childhood friend, then she would do the best job she could.
Della had also opened the windows, and a cool, gentle breeze rippled through the sheer curtains. Sleeping would be so much more pleasant at the lake than in any of the places they had stayed during their trip west, and definitely more pleasant than at the Street house. Not simply because of the difference in temperature and humidity, but because they were truly alone – the nearest neighbor being two acres upstream on the channel. He did everything he could to carve out time at the lake house because sharing a bed that was 'theirs' and not 'his' or 'hers' meant a lot to Della. What he hadn't told her, but he surmised she knew, was it meant a lot to him as well.
"Are you asleep?" He hadn't taken boxers or pajama bottoms with him to Harvey's bathroom, and was rooting around in his suitcase for either item.
"Uh huh. Blissfully."
"I thought so." He stepped into lightweight pajama bottoms, yanked at the drawstring, and tied it while skirting the bed to his side. She hadn't even removed the accent pillows before climbing in, just pushed them all to his side of the bed in a haphazard pile. He couldn't help but smile smugly as he pitched six pillows onto the floor without her objecting. He grabbed the quilt and pulled it down.
Nestled on his pillow was a jar. A glass jar filled with pea to marble sized stones. A wide ribbon of black watch plaid had been tied around the jar in a perfect, crisp bow. And lying propped up against the pillow was a photograph of a little girl in a bathing suit with curls falling down her back sitting atop a mound of stones, examining a handful and studiously assessing their 'prettiness'.
Perry stood stock still, staring at the jar and the candid photograph of the lovely child who as a woman filled his life with indescribable joy, as dumbstruck as when he'd opened Della's door to find Eve Wyman standing on the other side. His eyes finally moved across the pillows to find her watching him, her eyes bright, her breathing shallow with anticipation.
"Do you like your present?"
She barely had the words out before Perry was in the bed next to her, pulling her up and against him, enfolding her with arms that trembled, kissing her with lips with exquisite tenderness, telling her more with his touch than he could ever tell her with words. The reaction of this big, powerfully masculine man to a simple jar of stones was her undoing and she let huge, happy tears run down her cheeks, which he kissed away as quickly as they fell.
"Della…darling…how did you do this? When did you have time to…this is the best…I can't believe you made this for me." His insistent mouth captured hers again before she could answer.
"I didn't have time to make it," she said between highly pleasing assaults on her mouth. "It's Grandmother's."
Perry froze, his lips stilled against hers. She smiled and took his bottom lip between her teeth and pulled on it gently, enjoying his stunned speechlessness.
"Your grandmother's? She kept it? Where did you find it?" He abruptly released her and picked up the jar for the first time, turning it so that the stones fell against the glass with soft clinks, completely mesmerizing him.
"I found it the morning we left. You were shouting at me, but I had one more thing to do. I went into Grandmother's room, where I'd never been allowed to go, and there it was on the top shelf of the built-in. That was when I realized I would never figure her out and that I should take what you said to heart. The ribbon is mine from when I was about ten. Grandma Esther made me and Miranda matching black watch plaid jumpers and Grandmother bought the ribbon at Woolworth's. I couldn't give you the jar with a pink ribbon, so I was glad all my hair ribbons were still in a dresser drawer. Do you really like it?"
"Do I like it? Della, it's…I wanted one from the moment Oliver Velting told me about his."
"It's just a jar of stones," she continued, a bit of anxiety creeping into her words as she lowered her gaze to the jar held in his hands. "But I like that it's a Mason Ball Jar and actually says PERFECT MASON on it. I can take the ribbon off…now that I really look at it, it's not very masculine."
Perry lifted her chin and held it, his eyes dark and glistening in the soft light of the lone lamp. "Don't you dare touch my pretty stones," he said in mild warning.
Her smile leapt straight into his heart. "Thank you for loving me."
Perry sat back on his haunches, her words an emotional knock out. How did she continually do this to him? He, the big, tough lawyer who prided himself on being the clearest thinker and most likely to act rationally in any given situation was when it came to her, in reality, a…marshmallow.
Della uncurled her body from around the pillow and stretched like a cat for several moments, little purring noises of pleasure at the activity escaping from her every now and then. It felt good to wake up in this pretty room, hearing the loons call across the lake to her, smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee…
She sat up quickly and looked around. Perry wasn't in bed, wasn't in the room, wasn't in the adjoining bathroom. When had he awoken and why hadn't he woken her with amorous kisses to make up for lost time in their wonderfully cozy bed? They hadn't made love after she presented him with the jar of pretty stones – he had merely held her spooned up against him, his head resting on hers, his arms surrounding her protectively and possessively as she'd slipped into a deep sleep.
She rubbed her eyes and slid down from the significant height of the bed, her feet landing on the soft green rag rug with a muffled thud. Hoping he hadn't heard her get out of bed, she tiptoed across the hand scraped wood floor to the door and carefully opened it, then peeked out to see if he was in the great room. Satisfied that he must be in the kitchen directly below the bedrooms or outside, she ran lightly down the hallway and descended the stairs.
He wasn't in the kitchen, but a pot of coffee and a stoneware mug were. She poured coffee into the mug and took a deeply appreciative sip as she moved toward the French doors that led to the patio off of what could be considered the back of the house. Perry wasn't there either. She frowned and was about to turn away from the doors when those strong arms that had held her so lovingly as they slept slipped around her waist and demanding lips tantalizingly nuzzled her ear.
"Good morning, my love," he whispered, lips roaming from her neck to her cheek and then to her mouth for a soft kiss. "I was afraid you might sleep the day away."
"Not a chance, unless you're sleeping the day away with me. How long have you been up?"
"Just long enough to make the coffee and walk down to Ed and Sylvia's to borrow some eggs and bacon. There is literally nothing to eat except a few slices of bread. And tragically, there is no booze. I don't want to, but we'll have to drive into town for supplies."
She made a commiserating moan of chagrin. "If we must, we must. You'll need food to keep up with the itinerary I have planned."
"I've already made out a shopping list. We'll be in and out of the store faster than you can say 'incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial'," he told her, literally growling his pleasure when her lips parted beneath his, inviting him to explore the enticing depths of her mouth.
She pushed at him lightly when he would have pulled her down and had his way with her on the kitchen floor. "Maybe I can pop into that secondhand store and find something for the house so Harvey won't think I'm falling down on my decorating duties."
Perry couldn't help but grin. Had he ever known anyone better than he knew her? And yet there was still so much to learn about her. "All that will do is inevitably delay what comes after shopping on the agenda."
"Not if I let you buy the groceries while I pick up a knick-knack or two." She laid her head on his chest. "Next on the agenda is 'Perry makes breakfast while Della gets dressed'."
He reluctantly stepped aside as she set her coffee mug down on the counter and started toward the stairs. "The polka dot sundress?" he called after her.
She shook her head at the hopeful tone of his question and continued up the stairs, where she changed into the polka dot sundress.
Perry was again nowhere to be seen when Della returned downstairs, but she could hear him – singing no less – out on the patio. He had left the French door partially open and she slipped through it sideways.
The metal and glass table had been scrubbed and set with woven rag placemats, and Perry was just setting down plates heaped with scrambled eggs and crispy bacon on them. He had transferred the coffee into a speckled stoneware coffee service Della had bought at the second hand store in town their previous trip to the lake that coordinated with a set of speckled stoneware dishes unearthed from the storage shed where Harvey kept odds and ends that had been banished from the house over the years. Perry had even found a vase into which he'd placed a freshly-picked bouquet of bright orange California poppies. There was also a cardboard box on the table, and Della's stomach clenched involuntarily.
Perry looked up at Della as she stood in front of the French doors, the white woodwork a perfect frame for the black and white dress she wore. He smiled lustily. "There you are, right in time for a hot break…what's the matter?"
She nodded toward the Milliron Corrugated box resting on the table. "That cardboard box is the matter. Why is that there? Another present from my father?"
"Jeez Della, relax. It's just something I want to show you after we eat. It's in a cardboard box because they happen to be plentiful where we just came from." He pulled out a chair with a flourish and waited expectantly for her to join him. "You aren't going to let a cardboard box ruin our first morning at the lake, are you?"
Della literally and figuratively shook herself before stepping forward and allowing Perry to seat her at the table. He'd taken such care to set the table, using all the things she had brought into the house, the little touches even the men who stayed in the house for fishing and hunting trips were beginning to notice and comment on. She sheepishly cast her eyes downward as he took his own seat and began attacking the fluffy scrambled eggs.
"Maybe we should avoid cardboard boxes for a while," she suggested, trying to make her voice sound light.
"Maybe we should at that. Although as a stockholder in a mill specializing in corrugated medium produced from wood pulp and waste paper, I have lately found the lowly cardboard box to be quite fascinating."
"I need to get you out more often," she declared, picking up her fork and crushing the strips of bacon into bits that she then stirred into the scrambled eggs. Perry stared at her, appalled, as he always did when she 'ruined' her eggs in such a manner. "If the law and cardboard boxes are what you find exciting, then I'm in big trouble."
Perry grinned at her over the top of his speckled coffee mug.
She couldn't help but grin in response. "Do you have wine on the shopping list?"
"I'll lower my standards and drink scotch with you. Don't you want to know what food I put on the list?"
"You put steak, potatoes, lettuce, asparagus, green beans, pork chops, spaghetti, hamburger, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and assorted deli items, including whole dill pickles from a barrel. How'd I do?"
His grin became a mock grimace. "Am I that predictable?"
"No, I'm that predictable. I just listed all of my favorite foods. What are you getting for yourself?"
"A happy woman?" he ventured wickedly.
Della burst out laughing. "Put a fryer on your list. We'll cut it up and have grilled chicken tonight. I'll even make Brussels sprouts if they have any."
Perry scraped the last of his eggs from the plate and shoveled them into his mouth. "And I'll make a peach cobbler. Remind me to add whipping cream to the list."
She shook her head. "Ice cream."
"We'll have both," Perry declared decisively. He sat back in his chair and heaved a sigh. "Gosh Della, I…"
"You what?" she prompted as his words trailed off.
His eyes darkened as they stared intently at her. He seemed to make a decision and he pulled the cardboard box across the table toward him, reaching in and taking out what appeared to be a large book. He set it on the table between them and nudged it closer to her.
It was a photograph album, the cover a rich cranberry red, embossed with a geometric pattern around the edges and with the word 'PHOTOGRAPHS' surrounded by small polished semi-precious stones set into the leather. She looked at it suspiciously for a moment, then looked at him in curious surprise. The album was too new to be anything taken from her family home.
"Open it," he urged quietly.
She lifted her plate and set it aside before doing as bidden. Inside was a picture of a smiling baby with long curly dark hair, hands thrown above her head, and in Perry's meticulous printing was written 'Della - 10 months old' beneath it. It was the same photograph she had taken from her Grandmother's room. "Where – where did you g-g-get this?" she stammered.
"Mr. Velting makes them. He buys the albums and 'gussies them up' with stones…oh, you mean the photograph. It was in your box. I thought maybe it was time you had a photo album of your own."
"This p-picture," she began, and gulped. "It was on Grandmother's bedside table. I took it along with the picture of me with in the pretty stones."
Perry blinked. "Why would she have two copies…Good Lord Della, I think your father put this picture in the chest right before he gave it to me. It was on top of everything - the first thing I saw when I opened the lid."
Her hands shook as she fingered the picture of herself as an infant. "Before I saw the pretty stones on the shelf I was sitting on the bed trying to wrap my mind around the pictures she had of me. She also had pictures of Father and Carter as babies, pictures of her with my grandfather, and pictures of Father with his brother and sister who didn't survive beyond infancy. Her life was full of sadness I can't even imagine."
His hand covered hers where it rested on the photo album. "Now you have an album to put those two pictures in."
"Four pictures," she corrected. "I took one of me sitting at that damn piano in an organdy dress so poufy and ruffled you can hardly detect there's a little girl wearing it, and my senior class picture." She turned her hand beneath his so that she was holding it, fingers tightly intertwined. "Do you have a picture in your box I could put in my album? Would that be okay? Is that what people do with photo albums?"
She was such an accomplished lady, sophisticated and elegant, supremely efficient and prodigiously capable, and yet she was asking him, a doltish attorney about photo album etiquette. "I think that would be more than okay." Lord yes, it was so much more than okay.
Della closed the album and traced the raised countenance of the tiny stones with the hand not grasping Perry's. "Mr. Velting has a real artistic gift. And he's a very nice man."
Perry cleared his throat. "Yes, he certainly is. He performed quite a favor for me."
"The album in beautiful."
"I'm not talking about the album. The album was actually a spur-of-the-moment purchase after your father showed me the picture." He pushed the box in front of her. "There is something else in the box. The real reason I was gone for over an hour the afternoon of the meeting was because I had an appointment with Mr. Velting to pick it up."
Della looked questioningly at the box, then at Perry with a raised eyebrow. She tentatively reached out her hand, but he suddenly grasped it with both of his.
"Before you look inside, I need to say something."
She could swear he was blushing, but didn't dare bring attention to the fact. "Okaaaaay." It was the most innocuous thing she could think of to say.
"Remember the conversation we had in the caretaker's apartment?"
"I remember everything that happened in the caretaker's apartment."
He flashed a quick smile and his flush intensified. "Well, I've been thinking about part of that conversation, particularly the names of those three little girls." He placed a finger over her mouth when she would have protested. "Please, darling. I've worked out exactly what I need to say."
"Okaaaaay," she said again, meekly this time, not knowing whether to love him wildly at the moment or be upset with him. Or rather at what he was doing.
"We can try to forget what happened in that town and in that house during your childhood, but we can't hide from what we learned about you and your mother and Mae. You may never marry me, but every once in a while maybe I'd like to indulge in the fantasy." He paused to take a faltering breath before charging ahead in a rush. "Stacy is a cute name, and you know the only name I like as much as yours is Lyla. But I'm not sure about Julia. I think there is another name I'd prefer."
Another name he'd prefer for babies that could never and would never be? Had he lost his mind? Della merely nodded, her eyes big and concerned.
"One of those little girls should be named Danielle, or Daniela. I insist."
"Okaaaaay," she repeated slowly, concern giving way to genuine worry.
"I just wanted you to know that." He sat back in the chair, his normal coloring beginning to return. "You can look in the box now."
"Okaaaay," she said for a fourth time, and dragged the box closer.
Lush blue velvet covered whatever was contained in the box. She removed the fabric and what was revealed brought instant tears, despite her resolve never to cry again.
Tucked among folds of more blue velvet was 'one of them' shadow boxes. Inside the shadow box was a stone. A grey stone flecked with black, about the size of Perry's hand. The stone had been polished to a smooth, matte gloss, which made the name carved into it stand out even more.